Bristol County’s two jails continue to see the highest number of inmate suicides in Massachusetts, according to the latest data uncovered by WGBH News partner the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR).

Sixteen inmates have killed themselves over the last dozen years, and lawsuits against Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and his department are mounting.

Reporter Chris Burrell at NECIR also found the sheriff’s own study of the suicides left out details highlighted in a state police investigation.

All Things Considered host Barbara Howard spoke with Burrell about his findings, including a look at Bristol County’s jails and its grim toll of suicides. This interview accompanies Burrell's reporting, which can be found here.

Barbara Howard: It sounds like when it comes to suicides of people like, you know, Michael Ray, Kellie Pearson's fiancé, that there's not really a central repository that collects the data on these kinds of tragedies. So how hard was it to put this story together?

Chris Burrell: It requires a lot of reporting. I mean, Jenifer McKim, my colleague and I -- she wrote a story for The Boston Globe a little while ago coming back at this story. And going to the counties, they don't always just tell you right off the bat what their suicide numbers are. Sometimes you have to go to state police, to local police, to find things out. In Barnstable’s case, they told us they only had one suicide. When we did some research, we found out there were two and they said, 'Oh we didn't count that one,' because the woman died at the hospital, not in the jail. Suffolk County is very opaque with their numbers. They said all of the four inmate deaths in their jail were pending as to cause of death. And when we did some research, we found that one of those four pending deaths was a suicide. We had to go to the Boston Police Department to get reports to find that out.

BH: Some of the counties, especially Bristol County, had particularly troubling numbers. Bristol County, under Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, it had more than a quarter of all the county jail suicides statewide. And he's just one of 13 sheriffs.

CB: Right, and only has about 13 percent of the jail inmates in the state, yet accounts for that many suicides.

BH: Well, in your report tomorrow, you were given a tour of a county jail and shown some sort of a breakaway bar?

CB: Yep, those were clothing hooks and they were designed to prevent inmates from hanging themselves. The jail superintendent showed me around,,and you can hear him here:


If someone were to try to tie something, as soon as they put body weight on it, it collapses and doesn't allow them a place to tie to, so …

BH: Yeah, but it turns out that that did not work, though, for at least one inmate, right?

CB: In fact, that's true, for a 35-year-old Jessica DiCesare. Lived on the Cape, had two teenage kids, was really struggling with drugs, addicted, and she was held there on a very low bail, just $500, charged with drug possession, receiving stolen property, and she was able to hang herself in just that kind of cell that the Barnstable official showed me. And when the state police went into her cell, they found letters that she had written and notes, really kind of sad. I mean, she was really trying to get better. She had written on her to-do list, 'Stay off Suboxone,' stay off other kinds of drugs, and she just said that the place was driving her crazy -- she was losing her mind, and not getting the help that she needed.

BH: Well this combination of mental health issues an,d of course, the opioid epidemic that we've been going through, it really means that there is need for services. And I understand that there is legislation pending to try to deal with this. You did talk with a state senator about that, and here's what he said:


Once we get beyond detox, all the mental health issues come just raging to the top, and we've got to do a better job of providing mental health services and substance-use services.

CB: Well, and now the question is whether there's going to be support for the cost of that kind of treatment, and even the political cost, there's pushback from sheriffs who are like, 'We don't want Suboxone inside our jail.'

BH: That's a treatment for drug addiction?

CB: Yeah.

BH: Yeah. OK, thank you so much, Chris.

CB: You're welcome Barbara, thanks.

BH: That's Chris Burrell with WGBH News partner the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. His story was edited by Aaron Schachter. Part two airs tomorrow.